Dance charity rows with performers’ union over job cuts and breach of confidence claims

A charity has accused a union of breaching confidentiality in a row over potential job losses.

The contemporary dance company Phoenix Dance Theatre claimed that Equity, the trade union for artists, “chose to make public a confidential process” during a consultation on layoffs.

Equity denied the claims, saying it was never asked to keep specific details of the proposals private and only acted after the charity ignored repeated questions from the union.

The Leeds-based charity said the plans, which could have resulted in dancers losing fixed-term contracts, had been paused while the theatre considered its options.

A petition to save jobs at the charity has more than 2,000 signatures.

The theatre said in a statement that, after starting a strategic review of its work, “we entered a confidential process of consultation with impacted members of the team”.

It said: “A proposal to lay off the individuals concerned was considered but ultimately the decision has been made to halt this process and maintain their jobs while the review is undertaken.”

The statement said: “We are deeply disappointed that Equity chose to make public a confidential process, as this has had a detrimental impact on the whole staff team.

“Equity has been involved from the beginning of the consultation process and our aim was only ever to engage with them and our team in a meaningful way.

“We strongly refute its account of our actions and remain committed to supporting the whole Phoenix team as we move forward.”

The charity refuted the accusation, made in the petition, that it had tried to force Equity members to identify themselves to the theatre’s management.

It said that after information was made public, it “reached out to the four impacted individuals to let them know that, if they felt comfortable sharing this information with us, we were ready to offer our support should Equity not be representing them, and in any event should they be uncomfortable with their process being made public”.

This was “not intended as pressure to disclose union membership”, the charity said.

Equity said this statement “does not reflect our experience”.

The union argued that it only became involved in the process after one employee asked a union representative to accompany them to a meeting.

A spokesperson for Equity said: “It was only when we accompanied the dancers that the true scale of what Phoenix was proposing became clear.

“We questioned their proposals in the meetings with staff but did not receive answers to any of our questions.

“If they had engaged with us in the beginning we would have seen a very different process taking place.”

The spokesperson said Equity was “never asked to maintain any particular confidentiality” by the charity.

“We kept the process confidential, as a courtesy, up to the point that the members were told that they were to receive £100 per month and that the layoffs would take effect from 1 July,” they said.

“In the final of the company’s meetings with one of the dancers, we specifically asked if the decision could be changed and were told that it could not.

“It was only then, in consultation with the dancers, that we decided to make the matter public to put pressure on Phoenix.

“Even before doing so, we wrote to the chair of the board seeking answers.

“It was in the absence of any answer or change to the decision, and members facing a deadline for implementation of the layoffs, that we decided to go public.

“This was not a breach of confidentiality.

“This was the only option left as a result of Phoenix’s unfair decision, that would have left staff members potentially destitute.”

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